From education to employment

Upskilling and the new digital economy can marry business and technology skills

Fadl Al Tarzi, Founder & CEO at Nexford University

For many years suspicion and fear has grown about technology’s potential to render workers’ skill sets increasingly obsolete. As more data emerges, the issue – and the potential skill shortages it creates – has become starker.

McKinsey research notes that, globally, 87% of employers are experiencing skill gaps and talent shortages, and that by 2030, an estimated 85 million jobs will be unfilled.

The pattern affects both developed and emerging markets. In the latter category, employers in Egypt are desperately seeking talent. Recent data from Nexford University, a next-generation online university, revealed 78% of Egypt’s top employers (including PWC, Pfizer and the National Bank of Egypt) were struggling to find talent with the appropriate skills.

70% of employers surveyed said they would hire more entry-level talent if applicants were more job-ready, and half of all employers reported 20% of their teams needed upskilling.

Alternatively, in developed markets such as the United States, we are witnessing ‘the Great Resignation’ as technology talent leaves companies. More employers than ever need workers with IT skills in key areas: data science, digital transformation, and innovation. In the UK, companies who believe skill shortages threaten future commercial success are broadening their hiring processes, whilst new and existing talent is being upskilled to meet 21st century market challenges.

An additional, oft-overlooked dimension to the global skills shortage, is employees and entrepreneurs who excel at both business and technology. Historically, technology has tended to have mass impact

via gradual adoption. Initial, spectacular innovation is followed by mass consolidation, courtesy of a particular type of industrialist or entrepreneur – think Henry Ford or Steve Jobs.

These business icons churned out everyday products, giving comparatively new, but widely available and scalable technologies – their perfect use cases.

The difficulty posed by very modern technology is its complexity. In our current digital age, business acumen, plus a basic scientific understanding, is still insufficient to develop the business models and products befitting true innovation.

A legacy approach to university education cements the disconnect between business and technology skills. Traditional degrees focus on one of these two elements, and arguably fail to reflect the new digital economy. Whilst there has been a focus on ‘transferrable skills’ in recent decades – which has brought higher education closer to the demands of the market – it still falls well short of optimal ‘dual’ specialization.

The result? A shortage of talent informed to high levels in business and technology. The symptoms? The corporate world cannot find the right digital talent to stay competitive, and bright jobseekers are left behind, as opportunities to acquire the right skillsets aren’t available.

A disconnected education system embeds long-term economic obstacles, as the reeducation of high-skilled workers is not achievable overnight. Moreover, without a reskilling culture and continued learning throughout careers, the reinvention required presents formidable challenges for workers.

However, the displacement caused by digital transformation can be remedied digitally, too. A side effect of the Great Resignation is increased adoption of remote work and learning. Increased awareness levels, and acceptance of online educational programs, means the education system can develop the versatility required to address skill shortages, and in a shorter timeframe.

In the future, there will be no such thing as ‘tech-enabled’ businesses – as companies refusing to fully integrate technology will simply cease to exist. 

Companies are realizing their survival depends on technology adoption, and having employees with skills to use new technologies optimally. Upskilling is now becoming more ingrained in corporate culture, with companies willing to spend more than ever on employee education.

Flexible, high-quality online certification, degree programs, and next-generation educational institutions can now act as service providers between individual workers and the business world, preparing modern workers with the varied skillsets required.

Regular conversations between employees and employers re: potential curricula and skills in-need, is yielding an increased relevance in courses offered. Data analytics means learners studying for degrees can showcase and monitor their achievements earlier, and more reliably.

As more affordable education becomes readily available, the status quo of a deficit in business-proficient, tech-educated workers suddenly morphs into a great career opportunity for individuals – globally – who are prepared to embrace upskilling.

By Fadl Al Tarzi, Founder & CEO at Nexford University

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